Review: The Box of Delights
Image: Wilton's Music Hall
Theo Ancient - Kay
Nigel Betts - Cole Hawlings and Abner Brown
Mark Extance - Bishop of Tatchester and Train Conductor
Safiyya Ingar - Mariah
Tom Kanji - Charles and the Inspector of Police
Molly Roberts - Herne the Hunter, Rat and Abner's Head
Samuel Simmonds - Peter
Sara Stewart - Pouncer and Caroline Louisa
Once upon a time, there were two great sorcerers, Ramon Lulli and Arnold of Todi.
To decide who was the most powerful, they made a wager.
Who could invent the most incredible magical power, never seen before?
After a year, Ramon returned with an elixir, which would grant the drinker eternal life.
But then Arnold revealed his invention.
A box of his own invention.
A mysterious and wondrous Box of Delights, with dark powers.
Before Ramon could respond, Arnold disappeared, taking his Box with him.
Now centuries later, a boy on a train travelling home for the holidays, is about to be drawn into an ancient magical struggle, that will see him fighting not just for his life, but to save Christmas itself.
Watch out, Kay Harker, for the wolves are running …
The Box of Delights wowed audiences and critics last time round and returns to Wilton's this Christmas, back by popular demand for a limited run of 45 performances.
Based on the much-loved and critically acclaimed festive children's classic by Poet Laureate John Masefield, a direct forerunner to Narnia and Harry Potter, known to many through the legendary BBC adaptation.
You can now experience the enthralling wonder of Masefield's world for yourself, from flying cars to fiery phoenixes.
Each time I visit Wilton's Music Hall, I long to be magically transported back to the day when this beautiful old theatre had just been given it's final, original lick of paint and the auditorium sparkled with vibrant colour adorning its walls.
It must have been a stunning sight for theatregoers of the day.
But the lack of the original paintwork in the auditorium nowadays actually blends almost perfectly with this magical Christmas tale, The Box of Delights.
Tom Piper's impressive set uses almost every available inch of the stage area the theatre provides, wth long ladders stretching high into the ceiling, and huge old dust sheets initially covering what seem to be mountainous constructions hidden beneath.
Initially, it lends an appropriate air of mystery and secrets but, as the story unfolds, the sheets fly off to reveal wardrobes which provide entrances and exits, and a higher level for different segments of the action.
Authoritatively adapted by Piers Torday from the 1935 children's fantasy novel of the same title by John Masefield, the story is set in the immediate run-up to Christmas, and proves timely in almost every respect.
(From left) - Molly Roberts, Nigel Betts, Theo Ancient - photo c Nobby Clark
Theo Ancient's engaging and trusting Kay Harker is returning from boarding school for the Christmas hols when he gets inadvertently caught-up in the struggle for ownership of a magical box, currently in the possession of Cole Hawlings, but sought after by a magician called Abner Brown who will stop at nothing to get his evil paws on the device.
He's supported in his dastardly endeavours by Sara Stewart's avaricious and malevolent Pouncer who has eyes on the stack of jewels Brown owns, and she's backed-up by her suitably roguish accomplice, Charles, well-described by Tom Kanji.
There's a neat switch of the gender characteristics often assigned to juvenile roles in the descriptions of two siblings who've joined Kay for Christmas.
Safiyya Ingar's Mariah is a raucous, romping tomboy who yearns for adventure, loves guns and longs for daring exploits.
On the other hand, her brother Peter (Samuel Simmonds) is the exact opposite, a self-confessed 'plank', a little dim but likeable and loyal, who eschews anything vaguely dangerous and loves curling up with a book.
Nigel Betts copes flawlessly with the gear-changes needed to deliver both the kindly showman Hawlings as well as the cunning and semi-maniacal Brown.
As you might expect, given the season in which the plot takes place, carol singing peppers the proceedings and there's puppetry in the shape of a dog and a talking head as well as a substantial phoenix.
The overall design encompasses some vivid, well-crafted projections, including some neatly realistic blazing flames in the initial scene.
I'm not convinced that John Masefield's suggestion that rounding-up all the clerics would prevent Christmas from happening - but, hey, this is not the time for quarrelsome pickiness is it?
The festive season always throws up an array of family shows, from traditional pantos and the ever popular A Christmas Carol, to more inventive and unusual tales.
The Box of Delights is one of the latter, providing a near-perfect blend of adventure and magic that proves an inventively spellbinding and unusual alternative to panto.
And, judging by the reactions of three young children sitting near me and completely riveted for the duration, it seems the perfect treat for all the family this Christmas.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Wilton's Music Hall
Our show listing for The Box of Delights
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